The Job of A Prophet

RBG's former law clerks await her arrival at the Court. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

As a somber squad of her former law clerks stood guard, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned for the last time to the Supreme Court where she presided for almost 30 years to lie in repose Wednesday, first for a brief private ceremony and then  for a two-day public viewing. On Friday, she will - astonishingly but aptly - become the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol. About 120 of her former clerks lined the Court's steps, with several serving as pall-bearers; following both court and Jewish tradition, they will remain by her casket. Besides her family and her famed, often sharply dissenting written opinions, her clerks and the lessons in jurisprudence they learned will likely constitute her most lasting legacy as the fight to replace her intensifies. It has, of course, swiftly gotten exceedingly ugly: An ever-slimy Ted Cruz blocked a ceremonial Senate resolution honoring her life when Democrats moved to note her dying wish; his abhorrent, beyond hypocritical, alternative-Trumpian-universe-residing party has rushed to reverse themselves after loudly opposing election-year nominations, essentially arguing there are no longer any rational rules of conduct; and a traditional Beltway media in denial, critics say, fails to curtail an extremist, "radical outlier" GOP as it eagerly trashes our democracy.

For many thinking Americans, the loss of Ginsburg at this fraught moment feels both tragic and terrifying. A legal and cultural giant, she "gave us shelter from the storm," especially as the current monstrous regime worked overtime to exploit every systemic weakness in America - perhaps most notably in the courts. Now, "Many see the hurricane coming, and feel as though we are without shelter." But as has been noted, how fragile are we that we must put all our hopes on an extraordinary but nonetheless tiny, weary, 87-year-old woman with pancreatic cancer? "The late justice bore on her shoulders the weight of our democracy and the hopes of all who seek to preserve civil rights, and that was not her fault," writes Jamil Smith. "Neither should it have been her responsibility....Ginsburg's death should tell us that never again should we allow the American project to be contingent upon one person's mortality." As Americans mourn Ginsburg, many acknowledge their dual tasks both to "show up and pay tribute," and honor her work by continuing her legacy. In a speech in Congress Wednesday, Elizabeth Warren passionately voiced that responsibility to labor, as Ginsburg did, "to expand our democracy, not shrink it." At the Court ceremony, so did Lauren Holtzblatt, Ginsburg's rabbi. Holtzblatt movingly cited Ginsburg's fealty, and the Torah's mandate, to "never forget those who live in the shadows." "Nothing could stop Justice Ginsburg's unflagging devotion to that project, not even cancer," she said. "This was her life's work."

"To be born into a world that does not see you, that does not believe in your potential, that does not give you a path for opportunity or a clear path for education, and despite this to be able to see beyond the world you are in to imagine that something can be different - that is the job of a prophet. And it is the rare prophet who not only imagines a new world but also makes that new world a reality in her lifetime. This was the brilliance and vision of Ruth Bader Ginsburg....The Torah is relentless in (commanding) that we never forget those who live in the shadows, those whose freedom and opportunity are not guaranteed. 36 times, we are taught we must never forget the stranger. 12 times, we are told to care for the widow and the orphan. This is (the) Torah's call to action. And it is also the promise written into our Constitution...(Ginsburg) asked of our founding, 'Who were we the people?' They certainly weren't women. They surely weren't people held in human bondage...The genius of the Constitution is that, over 200 sometimes turbulent years, it has expanded and expanded. This was Justice Ginsburg's life's work - to insist that the Constitution deliver on its promise that 'we the people' would include all the people." - Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May her memory be a revolution. 

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